Michael Tomasky, author of the biography of Bill Clinton, was never a huge supporter of the former president. Although he has been a long time Democrat, Clinton was a politician he viewed as consequential.
“When you think of Clinton you think of one thing,” Tomasky said during his speech at Politics and Prose on Wednesday night. “And that is Monica Lewinsky.”
Tomasky said that he was not entirely enthusiastic about writing Bill Clinton, a book on the legacy of Clinton, but soon realized that the Lewinsky scandal overshadowed many great things the former president was able to accomplish during his two terms.
“When I was asked to do this book I was hesitant,” Tomasky said. “But then I realized if he was able to make that party [Republicans] that crazy, there must be something I’m missing.”
The audience broke out into laughter and the author continued to explain all of the “hidden gems” he was able to discover throughout his research.
One of the major decisions Clinton made was to veto the abortion bill, which was drafted to outlaw intact dilation and extraction abortions. In other words mothers whose lives were at risk due to the pregnancy would not be able to abort their child late in their term.
“Public opinion was strongly against Clinton, republicans were screaming murderer and a lot of Democrats were caving.” Tomasky explained. “But he stood firm to veto.”
Many of the positions that Clinton held were not only rejected by Republicans, but also Democrats. Tomasky said that Clinton perpetually followed his moral compass, in spite of support from his own party, which allowed for progressive ideals to thrive during his presidency.
Tomasky believes that Clinton, in one way or another, is the reason the Democratic Party still exists. The Democrats had lost three elections in a row and needed to reshape the party.
“If the Democrats had nominated another Mondale, they probably would have lost again and then where would they be?” Tomasky questioned. “Clinton pretty much saved the party.”
Tomasky said that the younger generation, today, has little to no appreciation for any of the good that he accomplished. The author explained that this is mostly because they do not understand that although his progressive positions do not seem to fit the standards of today’s times, they surpassed the standard of the 1990s.
Tomasky explained the president’s involvement with helping to restore a fair leader in Haiti almost immediately after he was elected. He continued to discuss the focus Clinton had on welfare reform, immigration matters and the Israeli agreement.
Tomasky then discussed a issue that people view as common in today’s world, but was something that was unheard of in the past.
“Polarization started during Clinton’s term in the 1990s,” Tomasky said. “It was a concept that no president had ever been confronted with.
Tomasky explains that the media had shifted in the 1990s, was explicitly conservative, and left Clinton to constantly have to deal with a 24 hour news cycle, foreign to any president before his time.
“You had this 24/7 media machine with a conservative media apparatus that came together.” Tomasky recalled. “ And in a lot of ways, Clinton did not know how to handle it.”
The author explained how the news accused the Clinton administration of removing the “w” from all of the keyboards before having to vacate the White House. They were also accused of trashing the Old Executive Office Building. The claims were later discredited, but these allegations were the start of the typical sphere of fake news one can witness in modern times.
Tomasky then insinuates that if the Republican Party did not cause the government to shutdown, then the Lewinsky scandal would have never occurred.
“If there had been no rabidly partisan Gingrich effort to shutdown the government, the two of them never would have met,” Tomasky said.
He explained that a conspiracy group known as the “elves” would set up situations to attempt to “catch” Clinton is any distasteful acts. There were rumors that were circulating about Clinton committing perjury, which birthed this group of lawyers to find out any information that would prove these rumors true.
Nonetheless, despite the bad press surrounding the Lewinsky infamy, Tomasky reveals that Clinton’s approval rating never fell below 60%. The audience seemed to be surprised by this number, and he explained most people do not know this about Clinton because history and news tend to leave that out.
In the wake of the most recent presidential campaign, however, Bill Clinton’s legacy that had been somewhat neutral or positive had been tainted. Tomasky explained that this was not particularly from the right, but instead Clinton “took a hit from the left, from the sander’s impetus.”
“Bernie Sanders and the occupyish of the wing, the economic populist wing, the anti-banker wing, really excoriated him,” Tomasky said.
The record of Clinton that had been positive for the Democrats in the 1990s and even throughout the Bush years was denounced, mostly in an effort to shed a poor light on Sander’s competitor Hilary Clinton.
“His legacy may be down right now,” Tomasky said. “But I think there will come a time when it will come back up, and that time, depending on how things go in these next four years, might be sooner than we think.”